One of the better presents I got for xmas this year was two dead pheasants in a plastic bag. I have never hung, plucked, skinned or gutted a pheasant or any game bird but that, of course, made the process all the more interesting.
Hugh suggests around five days for the ideal hanging period and that, through happy circumstance rather than supreme planning skills, was exactly what these guys got. The hanging was done in a plastic bag suspended on string through the window of my sitting room and anchored to the radiator. The hanging process gives flavour and character to the meat by allowing it to begin the first stages of decomposition.
The thought of plucking the birds was a little daunting so I decided simply to skin. Not remotely knowing what I was doing, I sharpened up my favourite knife and slit the skin down the front of the birds' chests. This peeled off fairly easily and a few more slices around the top bit of the legs meant I could rip off a trouser like configuration of copper feathers and sticky skin. Some more cutting at the head end allowed me to get the crop out – packed full of grain in both birds - without puncture. Slashing the abdomen released the innards into the bin. The livers of the birds seemed incredibly hard and distended – a result, perhaps, of them gorging on freely available grain – but the pungency of their viscera disinclined me to root through the bloody strings and clumps in the bin and I must embarrassingly admit I chucked the lot. Just think – possibly two natural and humane pheasant foie gras wasted. Oh for shame.
The legs were easy to snap off and remove but I ended up chopping the carcass in a rather irregular manner probably not known to any reputable school of butchery.
Check the outrageously yellow fat
I followed a really basic recipe for these – browned meat, bacon fried to render its fat, lots of standard veg (onion and both carrots and celery in big amounts to serve as an actual feature and not just background flavour mulch), wine, dried herbs and an hour-and-a-half 'pon the hob. I think white wine might have been best as the red sent the stew a grey colour.
The flavour of the pheasant was very fine. Chicken like, but with a denser and drier meat and with a musty countryside aftertaste, especially in the leg parts. The bacon and veg did the business as expected and the resulting stew, finished with a little lick of cream, was hearty and pleasingly unfussy. We ate it with potato and parsnip mash with plenty of pepper in which was a delight. Many thanks to the pheasant bringers - you know who you are.
Happy 2011 dear readers!